Max Weber

Weber was born in Erfurt, Germany, the eldest of seven children of Max Weber Sr., a prominent politician and civil servant, and his wife Helene Fallenstein. His younger brother Alfred Weber was also a sociologist and economist. Because of his father's engagement with public life, Weber grew up in a household immersed in politics, and his father received a long list of prominent scholars and public figures in his salon. At the same time, Weber proved to be intellectually precocious. His Christmas present to his parents in 1876, when he was thirteen years old, took the form of two historical essays entitled "About the course of German history, with special reference to the positions of the emperor and the pope" and "About the Roman Imperial period from Constantine to the migration of nations". It seemed clear, then, that Weber would apply himself to the social sciences.
In 1882 Weber enrolled in the University of Heidelberg as a law student while serving intermittently with the German army. In 1886 Weber passed the examination for "Referendar", comparable to the bar examination in the American legal system. Throughout the late 1880s, Weber continued his study of history. He earned his doctorate in law in 1889 by writing a doctoral dissertation on legal history entitled The History of Medieval Business Organisations in 1889. Two years later, Weber completed his "Habiliatationschrift", The Roman Agrarian History and its Significance for Public and Private Law. Having thus become a "Privatdozent", Weber was now qualified to hold a German professorship.
In the years between the completion of his dissertation and habilitation, however, Weber also began pondering contemporary social policy. In 1888 he had joined the "Verein für Socialpolitik", the new professional association of German economists affiliated with the Historical school who saw the role of economics primarily in the solving of the wide-ranging social problems of the age, and who pioneered large-scale statistical studies of economic problems. In 1890 the "Verein" established a research program to examine "the Polish question", meaning the influx of foreign farm workers into eastern Germany as local laborers migrated to Germany's rapidly industrializing cities. Weber was put in charge of the study and wrote a large part of its results. The final report was widely acclaimed as an excellent piece of empirical research, and cemented Weber's reputation as an expert on agrarian economics.
Weber thus experienced considerable success in the 1890s. In 1893, he married his distant cousin Marianne Schnitger, an intellectual and feminist who was well known in her own right as an author. The next year he briefly took a position as a (junior) professor of economics at Freiburg University, before moving to a position at the University of Heidelberg in 1896. He was forced to reduce and eventually halt his regular academic work due to an illness in 1897, and did not recover until 1901. The illness is thought to have been a mental breakdown caused by the death of his beloved father, with whom he had violently quarrelled just before his death without having had the chance to make up.
In 1903, Weber became an associate editor of the Archives for Social Science and Social Welfare. Weber felt, however, that he was still unable to resume regular teaching, and continued as a private scholar, helped by an inheritance in 1907. In 1904, he visited the United States and participated in the Congress of Arts and Sciences held in connection with the World's Fair in St. Louis. In 1905, he published his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It became his most famous work, and laid the foundations for his later research on the impact of cultures and religions on the development of economic systems.
During the First World War, Weber served for a time as director of the army hospitals in Heidelberg. In 1918, he became a consultant to the German Armistice Commission at the Treaty of Versailles and to the commission charged with drafting the Weimar Constitution. From 1918, he resumed teaching, first at the University of Vienna, then in 1919 at the University of Munich. In Munich, he headed the first German University institute of sociology, but he never held a personal sociology appointment in his life.
Max Weber died of pneumonia in Munich, Germany, on June 14, 1920. It should be noted that many of his today-famous works were collected, revised and published posthumously.